Around 300 miles from the North Sea oil basin, wind turbines off the Yorkshire coast are quietly powering a revolution in the UK’s engineering workforce.
Already over a third of the marine engineers working offshore as part of the UK’s growing renewable energy industry have made the move from oil and gas, and jobs statistics tell the tale of two very different industries.
Today, the price of oil is less than half 2014’s level, when North Sea jobs stood 450,000. Last year the number of jobs supported by the UK’s oil and gas industry fell by an estimated 84,000 to around 370,000, and they are forecast to fall a further 40,000 by the end of this year.
By contrast the latest government data show that companies in the wind and marine energy sector have a combined turnover of more than £8bn and nearly two in five have struggled to fill vacancies.
During the oil industry’s boom years, the exploration sector stole away workers from multiple other industries, by paying a premium to work in farflung locations. Now that trend is due to reverse.
Maf Smith, deputy chief executive of RenewableUK, says huge numbers of skilled workers will be needed in the UK’s growing renewable energy industry in the coming years. “By the end of the decade we expect the UK’s offshore wind sector to double in size. So the UK is perfectly placed to take advantage of its 40 years of offshore expertise, with workers making the transition from fossil fuels into renewables.”
While North Sea workers are likely to benefit from a fresh avenue of employment, Smith says the renewables sector stands to learn from colleagues in oil and gas. “For example, on how to use helicopters safely for construction and maintenance work. Their experience is highly sought after, their aptitude, professionalism and transferable skills are definitely valued in offshore wind. This is a great opportunity to share best practice standards, making the UK a global offshore energy centre of excellence.”
Although the migration of skills has already begun, hurdles remain. Hannah Peet, managing director of Energy Jobline, says her firm already has an oil and gas candidate database of more than 500,000 names, and in the past 12 months there has been a 40 per cent increase in the number of candidates with oil and gas background applying for roles in renewables. However, only one in eight has made the transition from fossil fuels to wind farms.